| Theater |

Review: Brilliant Traces, Now at Vintage Theatre, Is Not a Brilliant Play

Maggy Stacy and Christian Mast in Brilliant Traces: good performances, not-so-good play.
Maggy Stacy and Christian Mast in Brilliant Traces: good performances, not-so-good play.
Vintage Theatre Company
Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

The beginning of Brilliant Traces, now playing at Vintage Theatre, is wonderfully evocative: A young woman in a wedding dress stumbles into a remote and dilapidated Alaska cabin. Her car broke down some time ago, and she’s been wandering in a blinding whiteout — the kind that disorients and kills — for some time before coming across this, the only inhabited place for miles. As she circles the room, dazed and jittery, mumbling and uttering non sequiturs, the inhabitant, a man hunched in a blanket, watches in silence. Finally, she collapses. He slides off the dress and places her carefully on the bed, where she sleeps for two days.

You can’t tell at the beginning if this is going to be a crazy comedy or an essentially dark one — or perhaps something more serious than comedy, though you recognize the familiar “two lonely and eccentric people getting to know and feel for one another” trope. But your hopes are high. Between the bedraggled wedding dress and the satin shoes the man accidentally — or perhaps not — crisps in the oven, you’re expecting lively originality from playwright Cindy Lou Johnson. It helps that the woman, Rosannah DeLuce, is played by the always intriguing Maggy Stacy, and the man, Henry Harry, given a strong performance by Christian Mast. Despite the name (is she meant to be “of light”?), Stacy’s Rosannah is anything but a sweet ingenue or one of those lost, drifting Ophelia-type heroines. She’s depressed, distressed and coming apart, but Stacy also makes her savvy in some ways — distrustful, smart and constantly evaluating everything she sees and hears.

The play runs roughly a hundred minutes, and I was pretty happy during perhaps the first 45 or so, intrigued by the characters and fully expecting there’d eventually be some kind of climax. But it turns out that Rosannah’s just somewhat dotty. She feels herself disintegrating. She left her wedding, she explains, because she suddenly perceived all the people in the church, including her groom, as dead (there went my nascent theory that she left because the poor man was unpleasant or abusive). Driving through the storm in her car, she felt she was moving faster than the vehicle, in fact flying ahead of it. Perhaps this means she really does represent light.

This is all very poetic — and the language is sometimes fine, as when Henry describes in detail what happens to a human being caught in a whiteout — but it’s thin gruel for sustaining an entire evening.

Brilliant Traces turns out to be the kind of play where the playwright thinks a tear-drenched, self-revelatory monologue near the end can take the place of actual action, change, genuine revelation. This can be done, but the monologue had better be a doozy: Unfortunately, poor Rosannah just repeats her delusions and sorrows until you start feeling like a therapist trying hard not to tap your fingers impatiently on the arm of your chair or doze off. Then — worse and worse — Henry joins in. The dynamic between the two was interesting when he was a jaundiced and taciturn listener, but now he’s pointing to invisible scars on his arms, on his entire body, and we realize these are the brilliant traces of the title (the phrase comes from a poem by Avah Pevlor Johnson). He goes on to describe the great tragedy of his life: the death of his three-year-old daughter. But his narrative is completely implausible. If you’ve been around any three-year-olds lately, you’ll know that they’re unlikely to grieve the loss of a tiny tinsel shoe for longer than a minute, particularly if offered a cookie.

And now everyone’s sad and you have a kind of wailing duet going on. Perhaps if director Craig A. Bond and his actors had chosen to underplay or play against some of the grief-saturated moments, the play would have worked better. As it is, it’s a relief to step outside afterward and into the neutral darkness.

Brilliant Traces, presented through March 5 by Vintage Theatre Productions, 1468 Daytona Street, Aurora, 303-856-7830, vintagetheatre.org.

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.